English Non-Conformist Divine
English Non-Conformist Divine
A secret atheism, or a partial atheism, is the spring of all the wicked practices in the world: the disorders of the life spring from the ill dispositions of the heart.
God is a Spirit infinitely happy, therefore we must approach to him with cheerfulness; he is a Spirit of infinite majesty, therefore we must come before him with reverence; he is a Spirit infinitely holy, therefore we must address him with purity; he is a Spirit infinitely glorious, we must therefore acknowledge his excellency in all that we do, and in our measures contribute to his glory, by having the highest aims in his worship; he is a Spirit infinitely provoked by us, therefore we must offer up our worship in the name of a pacifying Mediator and Intercessor.
It is a vain charge men bring against the divine precepts, that they are rigorous, severe, difficult; when, besides the contradiction to our Savior, who tells us his “yoke is easy” and his “burthen light,” they thwart their own calm reason and judgment. Is there not more difficulty to be vicious, covetous, violent, cruel, than to be virtuous, charitable, kind? Doth the will of God enjoin that that is not conformable to right reason, and secretly delightful in the exercise and issue? And, on the contrary, what doth Satan and the world engage us in, that is not full of molestation and hazard? Is it a sweet and comely thing to combat continually against our own consciences, and resist our own light, and commence a perpetual quarrel against ourselves, as we ordinarily do when we sin?
Now what greater comfort is there than this, that there is one presides in the world who is so wise he cannot be mistaken, so faithful he cannot deceive, so pitiful he cannot neglect his people, and so powerful that he can make stones even to be turned into bread if he please!
The existence of God is the foundation of all religion. The whole building totters if the foundation be out of course: if we have not deliberate and right notions of it, we shall perform no worship, no service, yield no affection to him. If there be not a God, it is impossible there can be one; eternity is essential to the notion of a God; so all religion would be vain, and unreasonable, to pay homage to that which is not in being, nor ever can be.
What encouragement could there be to lift up our eyes to one that were of one mind this day and of another mind to-morrow? Who would put up a petition to an earthly prince that were so mutable as to grant a petition one day and deny it another, and change his own act? But if a prince promise this or that thing upon such or such a condition, and you know his promise to be as unchangeable as the laws of the Medes and Persians, would any man reason thus? because it is unchangeable we will not seek to him, we will not perform the condition upon which the fruit of the proclamation is to be enjoyed. Who would not count such an inference ridiculous? What blessings hath not God promised upon the condition of seeking him?
All creatures have a natural affection to their young ones; all young ones by a natural instinct move to, and receive, the nourishment that is proper for them; some are their own physicians, as well as their own caterers, and naturally discern what preserves them in life, and what restores them when sick. The swallow flies to its celandine, and the toad hastens to its plantain. Can we behold the spider’s nets, or silkworm’s web, the bee’s closets, or the ant’s granaries, without acknowledging a higher being than a creature who hath planted that genius in them?
God suffers those wanderings, starts, and distractions, to prevent our spiritual pride, which is as a worm at the root of spiritual worship, and mind us of the dusty frame of our spirits, how easily they are blown away; as he sends sickness to put us in mind of the shortness of our breath, and the easiness to lose it. God would make us ashamed of ourselves in his presence; that we may own that what is good in any duty is merely from his grace and Spirit, and not from ourselves; that with Paul we may cry out, “By grace we are what we are,” and by grace we do what we do; we may be hereby made sensible that God can always find something in our exactest worship, as a ground of denying us the successful fruit of it. If we cannot stand upon our duties for salvation, what can we bottom upon in ourselves?
It is less injury to Him to deny His being, than to deny the purity of it; the one makes Him no God, the other a deformed, unlovely, and a detestable God. He that saith God is not holy speaks much worse that he that saith there is no God at all.
Order is an effect of reason and counsel; this reason and counsel must have its residence in some being before this order was fixed: the things ordered are always distinct from that reason and counsel whereby they are ordered, and also after it, as the effect is after the cause. No man begins a piece of work but he hath the model of it in his own mind; no man builds a house, or makes a watch, but he hath the idea or copy of it in his own head. This beautiful world bespeaks an idea of it, or a model: since there is such a magnificent wisdom in the make of each creature, and the proportion of one creature to another, this model must be before the world, as the pattern is always before the thing that is wrought by it. This, therefore, must be in some intelligent and wise agent, and this is God.
The great matter of discomfort, and that which makes us question the spirituality of worship, is the many starts of our spirits, and rovings to other things. For answer to which,
When God hath sent a sharp disease, as a messenger to bind men to their beds and make an interruption of their sinful pleasures, their mouths are full of promises of a new life, in hope to escape the just vengeance of God: the sense of hell, which strikes strongly upon them, makes them full of such pretended resolutions when they howl upon their beds. But if God be pleased in his patience to give them a respite, to take off the chains wherewith he seemed to be binding them for destruction, and recruit their strength, they are more earnest in their sins than they were in their promises of a reformation, as if they had got the mastery of God, and had outwitted him.
All creatures ignorant of their own natures, could not universally in the whole kind, and in every climate and country, without any difference in the whole world, tend to a certain end, if some overruling wisdom did not preside over the world and guide them: and if the creatures have a Conductor, they have a Creator; all things are “turned round about by his counsel, that they may do whatsoever he commands them, upon the face of the world in the earth.” So that in this respect the folly of atheism appears. Without the owning a God, no account can be given of those actions of creatures, that are an imitation of reason.
Had it been published by a voice from heaven, that twelve poor men, taken out of boats and creeks, without any help of learning, should conquer the world to the cross, it might have been thought an illusion against all the reason of men; yet we know it was undertaken and accomplished by them. They published this doctrine in Jerusalem, and quickly spread it over the greatest part of the world, folly outwitted wisdom, and weakness overpowered strength. The conquest of the East by Alexander was not so admirable as the enterprise of these poor men.
It is the black work of an ungodly man or an atheist, that God is not in all his thoughts. What comfort can be had in the being of God without thinking of him with reverence and delight? A God forgotten is as good as no God to us.
Our worship is spiritual when the door of the heart is shut against all intruders, as our Savior commands in closet-duties. It was not his meaning to command the shutting the closet-door, and leave the heart-door open for every thought that would be apt to haunt us. Worldly affections are to be laid aside if we would have our worship spiritual; this was meant by the Jewish custom of wiping or washing off the dust of their feet before their entrance into the temple, and of not bringing money in their girdles. To be spiritual in worship is to have our souls gathered and bound up wholly in themselves, and offered to God.
The moral law is not properly a mere act of God’s will considered in itself, or a tyrannical edict, like those of whom it may well be said stat pro ratione voluntas: but it commands those things which are good in their own nature, and prohibits those things which are in their own nature evil; and therefore is an act of his wisdom and righteousness; the result of his wise counsel, and an extract of his pure nature; as all the laws of just lawgivers are not only the acts of their will, but of a will governed by reason and justice, and for the good of the public, whereof they are conservators.
When the highest promises are made, God expects they should be put in suit; our Savior joins the promise and the petition together; the promise to encourage the petition, and the petition to enjoy the promise: he doth not say perhaps it shall be given, but it shall, that is, it certainly shall; your heavenly Father is unchangeably willing to give you those things. We must depend upon his immutability for the thing, and submit to his wisdom for the time. Prayer is an acknowledgment of our dependence upon God; which dependence could have no firm foundation without unchangeableness. Prayer doth not desire any change in God, but is offered to God that he would confer those things which he hath immutably willed to communicate; but he willed them not without prayer as the means of bestowing them. The light of the sun is ordered for our comfort, for the discovery of visible things, for the ripening of the fruits of the earth; but withal it is required that we use our faculty of seeing, that we employ our industry in sowing and planting, and expose our fruits to the view of the sun; that they may receive the influence of it. If a man shuts his eyes, and complains that the sun is changed into darkness, it would be ridiculous; the sun is not changed, but we alter ourselves; nor is God changed in not giving us the blessings he hath promised, because he hath promised in the way of a due address to him, and opening our souls to receive his influence, and to this, his immutability is the greatest encouragement.
All the prayers in the Scripture you will find to be reasoning with God, not a multitude of words heaped together.
He hath willed everything that may be for our good, if we perform the condition he hath required; and hath put it upon record, that we may know it and regulate our desires and supplications according to it. If we will not seek him, his immutability cannot be a bar, but our own folly is the cause; and by our neglect we despoil him of this perfection as to us, and either imply that he is not sincere, and means not as he speaks; or that he is as changeable as the wind, sometimes this thing, sometimes that, and not at all to be confided in. If we ask according to his revealed will, the unchangeableness of his nature will assure us of the grant; and what a presumption would it be in a creature dependent upon his sovereign, to ask that which he knows he has declared his will against; since there is no good we can want, but he hath promised to give, upon our sincere and ardent desire for it.
It must be confessed by all, that there is a law of nature writ upon the hearts of men, which will direct them to commendable actions, if they will attend to the writing in their own consciences. This law cannot be considered without the notice of a Lawgiver. For it is but a natural and obvious conclusion, that some superior hand engrafted those principles in man, since he finds something in him twitching him upon the pursuit of uncomely actions, though his heart be mightily inclined to them; man knows he never planted this principle of reluctancy in his own soul; he can never be the cause of that which he cannot be friends with. If he were the cause of it, why doth he not rid himself of it? No man would endure a thing that doth frequently molest and disquiet him, if he could cashier it. It is therefore sown in man by some hand more powerful than man, which riseth so high, and is rooted so strong, that all the force that man can use cannot pull it up.
Prize and study the Scripture. We can have no delight in meditation on him unless we know him; and we cannot know him but by the means of his own revelation; when the revelation is despised, the revealer will be of little esteem. Men do not throw off God from being their rule, till they throw off Scripture from being their guide; and God must need be cast off from being an end, when the Scripture is rejected from being a rule. Those that do not care to know his will, that love to be ignorant of his nature, can never be affected to his honor. Let therefore the subtleties of reason vail to the doctrine of faith, and the humor of the will to the command of the word.
The understanding can conceive the whole world, and paint in itself the invisible pictures of all things. It is capable of apprehending and discoursing of things superior to its own nature. It is suited to all objects, as the eye to all colors, or the ear to all sounds. How great is the memory to retain such varieties, such diversities! The will also can accommodate other things to itself. It invents arts for the use of man; prescribes rules for the government of states; ransacks the bowels of nature; makes endless conclusions, and steps in reasoning from one thing to another, for the knowledge of truth. It can contemplate and form notions of things higher than the world.
When we believe that we ought to be satisfied, rather than God glorified, we set God below ourselves, imagine that He should submit His own honor to our advantage; we make ourselves more glorious than God, as though we were not made for Him, but He made for us; this is to have a very low esteem of the majesty of God.
As it is our duty to pray, so it is our duty to pray with the most fervent importunity. It is our duty to love God, but with the purest and most sublime affections; every command of God requires the whole strength of the creature to be employed in it. That love to God wherein all our duty to God is summed up, is to be with all our strength, with all our might, etc. Though in the covenant of grace he hath mitigated the severity of the law, and requires not from us such an elevation of our affections as was possible in the state of innocence, yet God requires of us the utmost moral industry to raise our affections to a pitch at least equal to what they are in other things. What strength of affection we naturally have, ought to be as much and more excited in acts of worship, than upon other occasions and our ordinary works.